Agents in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used a secret bank account to take a trip to Las Vegas, rent a $21,000 suite for a Nascar race, and donate money to one of their children’s schools, records and interviews indicate.
The New York Times reported that agents also used the off-the-books bank account for undercover operations, according to people familiar with the account and government officials. It is against the law for government officials to use private funds in government budgets.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating the secret account and has been very critical of the agency’s mismanagement, saying they did not know how money was being spent or how many informants were out in the field.
The New York Times reported on the account’s discovery in February, which led to a House oversight committee investigation. However, the Justice Department denied accusations of wrongdoing and refused to clarify whether or not the ATF still has other secret accounts or who exactly authorized the account in the first place.
The account was opened by informants in Bristol, VA., during a tobacco smuggling investigation. The account, admittedly a combination of private and government money, was created due to “verbal directives” from unidentified high-ranking officials, according to ATF supervisor Ryan Kaye.
Court records show the account goes back to at least 2011 and that the informants, Jason Carpenter and Christopher Small, ran a tobacco warehouse and helped ATF agents nab criminals smuggling tobacco across state and national borders.
The account reportedly helped pay for a trip to a 2012 tobacco convention in Las Vegas, and was also used to pay for a $21,000 16-person suite at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. The Nascar event, the Irwin Tools Night Race, did not have any obvious relation to law enforcement operations.
Agents also paid credit card bills with the account, though it remains unclear whether or not those cards were personal or issued by the government.
The money deposited into the account also came from a shady source, as agents reportedly had informants buy untaxed cigarettes and sell them for profit. Agents tried to conceal the money-making scheme by fabricating shipping documents and middlemen, actions that led a tobacco cooperative to file a law suite on federal racketeering charges.
The ATF did not respond to a list of questions, and admitted in a statement only to problems with tobacco operations from 2009 to 2011.
“Since that time, A.T.F. has implemented substantial enhancements to its policies, and has markedly improved leadership, training, communication, accountability and operational oversight,” the statement read.
The Bristol account was opened after the implementation of the new policies and continued to at least 2013. So far, the ATF has not commented on those inconsistencies.